I'm two hours into the game now, after getting the game two days late thanks to a delay printing the French manuals (which I usually just toss out anyways.) I'm about to sit down and put a fair bit of additional time into it, but I can give some initial impressions.
First off, I have to say... the character designs, they are... unsettling. I'm not entirely sure what it is about them. Perhaps it's the skin textures that are simply too smooth to be natural, perhaps it's the way their eyes don't seem to blink ever. But something about them just doesn't seem right, and it creeps me right out. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but I really don't like them. On the plus side, the environments are excellent. Very detailed and attractive. One unfortunate side effect is that the enemies tend to blend into the background fairly well. It can be hard to see them sometimes.
The other thing I'd like to talk about in this first update is the battle system. Holy crap. tri-Ace definitely learned their lesson from SO3. SO4 takes a step back to the basic design of SO2 (and SO1FD), but updates it for full 3D, making it more involved and more engaging. Skills are once again activated by the trigger buttons (so no more pressure sensitive crap), but they can still be linked directly and smoothly into normal attack combos. The best new aspect of the battle system, though, is the B button, which is something I always want in action RPGs but I very rarely get.
Dodge! Hold the B button and press the left analog stick in any direction and your character will dodge out of the way. It's extremely fast and makes combat a lot more interesting as it's much easier to evade attacks. The B button also plays into a new feature to the combat system called Blindsiding. By holding the B button down for roughly a second instead of dodging right away, the player can then time his dodge to coincide with an enemy starting his attack, which activates a slow-mo effect in which the character runs behind the enemy. At that point, for a few seconds every attack the player lands will be a critical hit.
There are some other features, but that's the meat of what gets used in most encounters. I've only seen a very small bit of the item creation system, but expect some talk on that in my next update. From what I've seen, it looks like it's going to be very good.
02/27/2009 - 10:45
Alright, let's talk about Item Creation, one of the things the Star Ocean series is well known for. I've only played around with it very lightly, but from what I can see, this system takes the best of SO3 and combines it with the best of SO2 to make for an easy to use item creation system that I expect is going to be very, very useful.
First, a comparison of SO2 and SO3's systems. In SO2, you use skill points earned when you level up to increase crafting skills, which in turn allows you to use item creation to turn base materials into various items. What items were created were, in many ways, fairly random, but it was an effective, simple system, although the low success rate in some cases made it annoying. In SO3, every character had a set skill level in each of the different types of item creation. By putting them on an inventing line, a random cost would be chosen which corresponded to a massive list of possible items, and the game would deduct money as it attempted to make the items. This system was extremely irritating due to it being poorly explained by the game, as well as the inherent randomness involved and the inability to see how difficult what you were attempting to create was before starting. The success rate was also brutally low for high-end items, which lead to a lot of reloading.
SO4 takes some of the good ideas from SO3 and combines them with SO2. Specifically, inventing and actual item creation have been separated, and the effect is wonderful. There are now two parts to item creation: Recipe creation, and item creation. Recipe creation resembled SO3's crafting system. Each character has a set skill level in each of the different forms of crafting, and by putting them on inventing lines, they will create new recipes. So far the success rate seems extremely high, which is nice, although I expect it may become more difficult as the game progresses. The game is a bit kinder now, however, as you don't need to select any kind of specific cost to start creating recipes. If the characters are able to create a recipe, they'll create it, and continue creating new recipes until they're out of ideas. The cost for creating recipes is Party SP, which is earned after every battle as well as by opening chests and interacting with various things throughout the game. The cost seems to be 1 Party SP per revolution of the timer, so it's not particularly devastating. The party SP can also be used to develop character skills, however, so it has other uses besides IC, which will probably make it a bit of a balancing act.
The second half of the new IC system is item creation itself, which is in some ways simpler and other ways more frustrating. First of all, once you have a recipe, you can create that item as long as you have the necessary ingredients. This diverges a bit from previous games, as it means you'll need to collect the appropriate materials in order to make an item, which, unfortunately, makes mass production a bit more difficult. On the plus side, however, item creation has a 100% success rate. If you have the ingredients and attempt to make an item, it will be successful, guaranteed. In order to make an item you have a recipe for, a character needs to have the appropriate item creation skill at a high enough level to do so, and I expect the higher the skill, the better the recipes they can come up with in Recipe Creation as well.
The only thing I'm a bit peeved at is that, like SO3, item creation can only be performed at specific locations. SO2 allowed you to create items anywhere, which made it very easy to work with. It's a bit of an irritation, but not that bad, I suppose.
Hope that sheds some light on the IC system for those who were curious.
02/27/2009 - 11:15
I never thought it could be possible, but Lymle is both creepy AND annoying. Not as annoying as Rico and Rucha from Infinite Undiscovery, but still. Annoying. She does have some amusing moments, mostly when she's leaving Faize out to dry. What irks me is that she obviously has a personality, and yet the actor is playing her like a zombie. It's awful.
I'd like to say something to tri-Ace and all Japanese RPG developers out there on the topic of exploration. I get it, you're trying to create a great big open world to explore. That's good. RPGamers have been clamoring for that to return since 3D games on the PS2 changed how things work. But here's the thing: exploration only works if there's something to find. Great big open worlds are pointless if they're EMPTY. A handful of treasure chests scattered around doesn't cut it. Want to know why western open world games are so successful? Because there's stuff to find! Look at Fallout 3. Everywhere you go there are weird nuances to discover and buildings to explore. SO4 is just great, big, open, empty fields that serve no other purpose than to make you run a lot more than you should have to. Even the dungeons are freaking massive. Sometimes smaller is better. Just keep that in mind.
03/01/2009 - 15:20
There is an adorable, blue-haired cat-girl in SO4 that may or may not be from Roak. That is all.
03/01/2009 - 22:30
So, after about 19 hours of playtime I reached the second disc, and have now been exploring that for roughly 3 more. At this point, I feel like I'm far enough into the game to talk about the story a bit.
First of all, no matter what you might hear, the story isn't actually that bad. Yes, it is horribly over-acted for the most part, and the dialogue can be quite awful for a lot of it, but at other times it can also be quite well-done. However, despite these issues, the plot is actually something of a highlight. tri-Ace seems to have taken criticisms of the first three games' storylines to heart, and they've done their part to create a true science fiction story. Before the first disc was done, I'd already visited five different planets, and with any luck, the second disc will bring some more to the table as well. The planet I've reached now appears to be a fair bit larger than the others I've been too, but hopefully I'll be taking off into space again and visiting some more worlds.
In a way, with all this planet-hopping, the game feels sort of like an episode of Star Trek. That series also regularly took place on unexplored planets, and Star Ocean 4 has the same sort of appeal to it. At least one of the planets visited didn't seem to further the plot any other than to give the main character motivation to change his behavior, which was a bit weird, but regardless, it was an entertaining distraction and did help to flesh the characters out a bit. So far it seems to be a pretty typical JRPG cast - a small handful of interesting, dynamic characters supported by copious numbers of static ones.
Honestly though, it's very difficult to forgive the poor writing and acting. Hell, even the remakes of SO1 and SO2 had better dialogue, and the former at least had better acting. This is going to be an interesting game to review, that's for sure.
03/04/2009 - 12:45
I have eight characters in my party now, and with that comes full access to all eight areas of crafting. I've already discussed the main form of item creation, but a new form has opened up now, one that fans of SO3 will be well familiar with. Synthesis.
They nailed it. That's all I can say. Synthesis is pretty much as perfect as it can or ever will get now. For one thing, there's no longer massive Fol costs or hard-to-find Synthesis materials needed, which means the player is free to experiment all he wants. Furthermore, pretty much EVERYTHING has some kind of factor you can transfer over. Even seemingly worthless items and potions that have absolutely no apparent practical value might contain really useful factors when using them for synthesis. Even the age-old staple Blueberries has a factor that can be added to a weapon, armor, or accessory (and yes, you can use synthesis on accessories now too) The only downside, unfortunately, is that 1) you can't stop the synthesis process part way, making it slightly less easy to discard worthless factors at the end of an item, and 2) there are only 4 factor slots (although somehow I get the feeling another 4 are going to open up at some point.)
However, with virtually no restrictions on the synthesis process, I'm able to create significantly boosted experience just by using the trash items I happen to have collected. It also makes experimenting with the crappier recipes in the other areas of crafting more worthwhile, as they might have helpful factors that can be applied as well.
Now, I feel the need to express my fury at tri-Ace for making crafting so damn difficult in SO4. Not in terms of mechanics, because once you get going it's very easy. The problem is that it can only be done on the Calnus, and with the game's massive environments, it means that crafting is really only available in-between planets. When you set down on a planet and start exploring, it's way too much of a hassle to run all the way back to the ship just to make a few items. They really should have made it more accessible, but I expect that eventually there's going to be a faster method of returning to the ship. At least I hope so.
Maybe I'll log out and check my e-mail or something...